Roger Pielke Jr.: Cornucopians vs. Malthusians

Cornucopians vs. Malthusians

Back in 1980, Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon made their famous bet, recounted by John Tierney at its culmination 10 years later:

In 1980 an ecologist and an economist chose a refreshingly unacademic way to resolve their differences. They bet $1,000. Specifically, the bet was over the future price of five metals, but at stake was much more — a view of the planet’s ultimate limits, a vision of humanity’s destiny. It was a bet between the Cassandra and the Dr. Pangloss of our era.

They lead two intellectual schools — sometimes called the Malthusians and the Cornucopians, sometimes simply the doomsters and the boomsters — that use the latest in computer-generated graphs and foundation-generated funds to debate whether the world is getting better or going to the dogs. The argument has generally been as fruitless as it is old, since the two sides never seem to be looking at the same part of the world at the same time. Dr. Pangloss sees farm silos brimming with record harvests; Cassandra sees topsoil eroding and pesticide seeping into ground water. Dr. Pangloss sees people living longer; Cassandra sees rain forests being decimated. But in 1980 these opponents managed to agree on one way to chart and test the global future. They promised to abide by the results exactly 10 years later — in October 1990 — and to pay up out of their own pockets.

What was the result?  Simon won handily.

But recent goings on with commodity prices have some people asking whether Simon’s timing was just lucky and perhaps Ehrlich views will ultimately triumph. In August, The Economist reported that had the famous bet extended to 2011, Ehrich would have won, as shown in the graph below. (Roger Pielke Jr.)

3 responses to “Roger Pielke Jr.: Cornucopians vs. Malthusians

  1. post hoc ergo propter hoc: believing that temporal succession implies a causal relation.

    This is one of the media’s favorite logical fallicies. Based on Malthusian principles prices of commodities must rise over time. Commodity prices are rising. Therefore Malthusian principles are the cause of the rising prices.This could be nothing more than another example of what happens when government regulates how, when, and where commodities can be accessed. The jump in prices coinsides exactly with the market crash and housing debacle, both courtsey of our all knowing elected officials.

  2. It brings to mind the often stated result that a climate-modelling simulation can produce pretty much any result you want. You just have to select the beginning and end points to your tastes.
    From my corner of the synthetic-chemistry world it is well known that if you wait long enough you can get a molecule that will (apparently) dice carrots.

  3. Even you admit that your appeal to Hitler is a cotelpmely farcical fallacy, but yet you still commit it, particularly because you think we should at least worry about being on par with a guy who’s responsible for incredibly evil acts like genocide. I find it very hard to believe that some one as intelligent as yourself simply overlooked the possibility that one might believe overpopulation is a problem but that the mass extermination of peoples is not a solution to this problem. We do not need to fall back on such fallacious (and insulting) ploys to make good arguments You might be interested, after you read Eating Fossil Fuels, in a book called Cannibals and Kings by anthropologist Marvin Harris. It is the burden of this book to demonstrate that the relationship between demographics and intensification of resources leads to reduced standards of livings. It’s a good read, and while it’s not specifically about overpopulation, Harris does an excellent job at demonstrating the problems associated with overpopulation and resource intensification.

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